Nicolette Tan C’16/W’16 interned at BoxGreen in Singapore

2015-2016 Dr. William Zucker Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow

I found the position through sifting through many startup sites and startup job portals, specifically www.startupjobs.asia works well in Asia. I discovered through mass recruiting for all types of jobs that the startup culture suit my working style best, and allowed me to bring greatest value. I would advise students to really reflect on what working environment they enjoy – startups vary in size, flexibility of job scope, etc. depending on their size and stage of funding. Knowing what matters to you, your working style, and what skills you can bring to the table, is key to finding a good fit and thriving in a startup environment. Stay curious, and stay fearless. Cheers! I will be very honest and say that if you asked me at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t planning to work at a startup. I thought I wanted to work for a larger company, and recruited accordingly. Throughout the recruiting process however, I discovered a little more about what I enjoyed doing, and the working environment that I sought. I realized that I wanted to work in a small team, and be in a situation where I was able to work on multiple projects throughout the summer, and be able to see results quickly (within the time of my internship). While realizing all this, I decided to apply to work at a startup, because it sounded like an environment where I would thrive and learn a lot in a short period of time. I also wanted to get to know more people in the local startup scene in Singapore, and being a part of one was, I felt, the best way to make connections.

Then begged the question – what kind of startup? I decided that I wanted to work for a startup of which I would be/was already a consumer – I quickly narrowed it to B2C companies. I wanted to be able to understand the company from all angles by the end of my experience, and the customer angle was very important to me. Having been involved in customer-centric design efforts the previous summer, I wanted to be front and center in thinking about product-market fit and designing products that would be useful to the consumer. I then narrowed it further down to a startup in the food ecosystem. I am personally very interested in food, all aspects of it. I decided it would be a “food-focused summer”, and I researched a few in the space. Having volunteered on a farm the summer before and learning more about organic food, I knew that I wanted to do something related to health and nutrition. I stumbled upon BoxGreen through this research, and realized it was perfect. In the US, I am a huge fan of the subscription box model, personally, as a consumer, having subscribed to NatureBox, Love With Food, Graze…and those were just the food-based ones. BoxGreen is an attempt to bring personalized healthy snacking to busy urbanites in Singapore. I loved that I had the opportunity to develop a concept that I believed in, and bring value to my home community.

I found BoxGreen on www.startupjobs.asia, which is pretty much the leading portal to find startup jobs in Asia (at least in Singapore). They were looking for a Business Development Intern, which was something I didn’t really know very much about. I sent in my resume through the portal, and after not getting a response for quite some time, I emailed the contact I found on the website directly. In this email I mentioned my experience as a consumer with the US food subscription boxes. The founder replied me within the day, and we were on a 1.5 hours Skype call. I demonstrated understanding of the company, the industry, and challenges the company could be facing, and we discussed informally what value I could bring.

All in all the experience was a whirlwind one, and more than I asked for. BoxGreen was very early stage, and I was essentially a multi-functional intern. Furthermore, BoxGreen was undergoing a 100-day accelerator program, which means that more milestones had to be hit within a small amount of time. For example, on Day 1, I was told that they wanted to launch in Kuala Lumpur within 3 months. On Day 2 when I came in, I was told that within 2 weeks, I needed to set up the infrastructure that would make it possible to at least have a proof of concept. It was a mad scramble to put together lists of influencers, media, media material, deciding on product configurations for the Malaysian market, logistics etc., and it helped that I had family and friends in Kuala Lumpur, but the turnover was super fast on this project. I was given a lot of autonomy to represent the company and make decisions. Repeatedly, Walter, BoxGreen’s co-founder would reassure me that he trusted my judgment, and it was okay to make decisions on behalf of him as long as I wasn’t committing above a certain budget. This amount of responsibility doesn’t suit everyone, definitely, but for me, it empowered me to explore opportunities beyond my given job scope, and gave me only one goal/target metric to hit: make money for BoxGreen.

Throughout the internship, I got exposure to many different aspects of the business – sales, marketing, operations, business development…it ended up becoming a lot more than I imagined. Anyone working for a startup should realize that everything is interconnected, and that depending on the stage of the startup, you must be ready to take on any task. I remember very specifically that Walter had included “Must have a ‘no task too small’ attitude” in the job description, and that had resonated with me at that time as a good attitude to have, no matter what workplace it was. I had to be creative constantly, especially with many celebratory occasions falling in the summer, including Fathers’ Day, and Singapore’s 50th National Day. Even though we had marketers on the team, the whole team had meetings to discuss our plans – in small ways, I piloted the Brainstorm Post-It wall, where all crazy ideas, no matter how small, deserved a place. We had product testing sessions, which were a lot of fun, and the office was supplied with a never-ending stream od snacks. More importantly, as BoxGreen went through the accelerator, I watched the founders refine and re-evaluate the company’s vision constantly. In the beginning, the company had started out as a healthy snack subscription box, but as the months went by, the focus became increasingly on the personalization, and realizing that there was a niche that we could fill using deeper analysis of customer analytics. I helped to recruit a nutritionist on board, and watching the founders gain more clarity on their vision through countless pitch deck refinements was certainly a joy.

Many a train/car ride, I also got the opportunity to discuss business decisions with the founders. They were very transparent about their business decisions, and let all team members be aware of their personal expectations regarding success/failure of the business. As the company as fundraising for their seed round, I also got to understand more about different fundraising philosophies. For example, Sequoia Capital advises that you get as little funding as you need in the early stages – calculate what you need for 18 months, add a little buffer and raise that. I realized the importance of networks in the startup community, and also learnt that sometimes, even if a venture capital firm is giving you money, it’s okay to say “no”. Know what your company is worth, and know what your plans are for the company if you choose to grow it. I could go on all day about my summer, but in short, I learnt business lessons, personal lessons, life lessons, and I couldn’t have asked for a better startup experience.